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      The evolution of language families is shaped by the environment beyond neutral drift

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      Nature Human Behaviour
      Springer Nature America, Inc

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          Testing for phylogenetic signal in comparative data: behavioral traits are more labile.

          The primary rationale for the use of phylogenetically based statistical methods is that phylogenetic signal, the tendency for related species to resemble each other, is ubiquitous. Whether this assertion is true for a given trait in a given lineage is an empirical question, but general tools for detecting and quantifying phylogenetic signal are inadequately developed. We present new methods for continuous-valued characters that can be implemented with either phylogenetically independent contrasts or generalized least-squares models. First, a simple randomization procedure allows one to test the null hypothesis of no pattern of similarity among relatives. The test demonstrates correct Type I error rate at a nominal alpha = 0.05 and good power (0.8) for simulated datasets with 20 or more species. Second, we derive a descriptive statistic, K, which allows valid comparisons of the amount of phylogenetic signal across traits and trees. Third, we provide two biologically motivated branch-length transformations, one based on the Ornstein-Uhlenbeck (OU) model of stabilizing selection, the other based on a new model in which character evolution can accelerate or decelerate (ACDC) in rate (e.g., as may occur during or after an adaptive radiation). Maximum likelihood estimation of the OU (d) and ACDC (g) parameters can serve as tests for phylogenetic signal because an estimate of d or g near zero implies that a phylogeny with little hierarchical structure (a star) offers a good fit to the data. Transformations that improve the fit of a tree to comparative data will increase power to detect phylogenetic signal and may also be preferable for further comparative analyses, such as of correlated character evolution. Application of the methods to data from the literature revealed that, for trees with 20 or more species, 92% of traits exhibited significant phylogenetic signal (randomization test), including behavioral and ecological ones that are thought to be relatively evolutionarily malleable (e.g., highly adaptive) and/or subject to relatively strong environmental (nongenetic) effects or high levels of measurement error. Irrespective of sample size, most traits (but not body size, on average) showed less signal than expected given the topology, branch lengths, and a Brownian motion model of evolution (i.e., K was less than one), which may be attributed to adaptation and/or measurement error in the broad sense (including errors in estimates of phenotypes, branch lengths, and topology). Analysis of variance of log K for all 121 traits (from 35 trees) indicated that behavioral traits exhibit lower signal than body size, morphological, life-history, or physiological traits. In addition, physiological traits (corrected for body size) showed less signal than did body size itself. For trees with 20 or more species, the estimated OU (25% of traits) and/or ACDC (40%) transformation parameter differed significantly from both zero and unity, indicating that a hierarchical tree with less (or occasionally more) structure than the original better fit the data and so could be preferred for comparative analyses.
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            Inferring evolutionary processes from phylogenies

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              Is Open Access

              Language Structure Is Partly Determined by Social Structure

              Background Languages differ greatly both in their syntactic and morphological systems and in the social environments in which they exist. We challenge the view that language grammars are unrelated to social environments in which they are learned and used. Methodology/Principal Findings We conducted a statistical analysis of >2,000 languages using a combination of demographic sources and the World Atlas of Language Structures— a database of structural language properties. We found strong relationships between linguistic factors related to morphological complexity, and demographic/socio-historical factors such as the number of language users, geographic spread, and degree of language contact. The analyses suggest that languages spoken by large groups have simpler inflectional morphology than languages spoken by smaller groups as measured on a variety of factors such as case systems and complexity of conjugations. Additionally, languages spoken by large groups are much more likely to use lexical strategies in place of inflectional morphology to encode evidentiality, negation, aspect, and possession. Our findings indicate that just as biological organisms are shaped by ecological niches, language structures appear to adapt to the environment (niche) in which they are being learned and used. As adults learn a language, features that are difficult for them to acquire, are less likely to be passed on to subsequent learners. Languages used for communication in large groups that include adult learners appear to have been subjected to such selection. Conversely, the morphological complexity common to languages used in small groups increases redundancy which may facilitate language learning by infants. Conclusions/Significance We hypothesize that language structures are subjected to different evolutionary pressures in different social environments. Just as biological organisms are shaped by ecological niches, language structures appear to adapt to the environment (niche) in which they are being learned and used. The proposed Linguistic Niche Hypothesis has implications for answering the broad question of why languages differ in the way they do and makes empirical predictions regarding language acquisition capacities of children versus adults.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Nature Human Behaviour
                Nat Hum Behav
                Springer Nature America, Inc
                2397-3374
                November 2018
                November 5 2018
                November 2018
                : 2
                : 11
                : 816-821
                Article
                10.1038/s41562-018-0457-6
                12abc9b1-4f1b-4e8d-8d67-33601a2eda90
                © 2018

                http://www.springer.com/tdm


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